A Spiritual Home on the Cloud

China-India Artistic Rendezvous in CGA’s VR Gallery

Yu Yan

After two years of preparation, a VR exhibition entitled “Flowers on One Stalk: China-India Artistic Interactions in the 20th Century” will be launched on the CGA website in October 2021. The launching of the exhibition is planned to coincide with and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the establishment of NYU Shanghai.

As two of the ancient civilizations in Asia, China and India have built bridges of cooperation, peace, and mutual understanding since the first century CE, when Buddhism was introduced to China. Whether in philosophy, literature, or fine arts, China and India have been blossoming together like twin flowers on one stalk throughout their long-established history. In this forthcoming VR exhibition, more than eighty rare paintings from various collections in China and India will be exhibited to a global audience. Among them are works by Zhang Daqian, Xu Beihong, Gao Jianfu, Ye Qianyu, Shi Lu, and many other preeminent Chinese artists of the twentieth century. In addition, there will also be a large number of paintings by Chang Xiufeng, the first known Chinese art student who went to India in the twentieth century. These valuable artworks not only reveal artistic exchanges between India and China since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1950, but also fill the lacuna in intra-Asian interactions and circulations of artistic traditions during the period leading to decolonization.

The exhibition consists of four galleries. The first gallery, “In Pursuit of the Essence of Art in India,” focuses on the imitative works of Indian paintings such as Ajanta mural paintings, Mughal miniatures, and the tempera paintings of the New Indian Art Movement, as well as sketches of the Indian landscape and local customs by Chinese artists during their travels and exchanges in India in the twentieth century. The second, “New Fusion of Chinese and Indian Art,” will demonstrate new creations by Chinese artists that fuse with the essence of both Chinese and Indian art. For instance, Zhang Daqian’s Dance in the Silent Countryside (1950), in which the artist skillfully blends the brushwork technique of Chinese Dunhuang figure-painting with the typical dress and dancing posture of indigenous Indian women, presenting the exotic style of Indian women with the unique charm of the Chinese woman in a subtle and restrained manner. Another example is Chang Xiufeng’s Corner of the International University (Santiniketan) Campus, which depicts the scenes he saw during his study at Santiniketan, the land of peace in India, with Indian tempera color and traditional Chinese painting techniques in the depiction of rocks and mountain, combining the elements of both Chinese and Indian art, and creating a new style. The third gallery, “Arts for the People,” presents the connection between China and India in the transformation of modern Chinese art from elite to public taste after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). During his visit to China in 1924, the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore stressed the importance of art serving the needs of life. He encouraged artists to go out of the studio to depict nature and integrate themselves into the life of the public. In the middle of the twentieth century, when Xu Beihong and Shi Lu returned from their visit to India, they were deeply touched by the indigenous Indian workers, not only for their magnificent physiques, but also for their uprightness in character and sincerity of demeanor. Xu Beihong’s most renowned painting, The Foolish Old Man Moving the Mountain, was just modeled on the working people of India. The fourth gallery, “Chinese Classical Art in India,” focuses on how Indian audiences have come to accept and enjoy Chinese classical art. This section includes a series of traditional Chinese landscape paintings made by Chang Xiufeng during his study in India, as well as a series of Chinese calligraphy and classical ink paintings created by the established Chinese philosopher Xu Fancheng during his stay in South India. These Chinese artworks have been spoken of highly and are highly treasured by people from all walks of life in the Indian local community.

This exhibition has received generous support from the National Museum of China, the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum, the Ye Qianyu Art Museum, the Guangzhou Art Museum, the Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in India, Shi Dan, daughter of the painter Shi Lu, Chang Zheng and Wang Yizhu, descendants of the painter Chang Xiufeng, and a number of private collectors. We want to express our utmost appreciation and gratitude for the generosity of the above-mentioned organizations and collectors.

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